2012 So Far (in Films)

It seems to me that each year – no, not even so long as that, 6 months at best – we hear in great detail about the death of cinema or the dearth of good films as Hollywood trots out increasing numbers of sequels, prequels, and remakes. No one makes original films anymore! People don’t want to go out to the theatres anymore when they’ve got shiny entertainment systems of their own at home! And so on, and so forth.

It’s almost habit by now, I think.

I’ve been to the cinema a few times this year and I’ve been struck each time by the quality of the films I’ve seen: Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Shame, to name only the most recent and they have all, in their own way, been fantastic. This isn’t, I hasten to add, an argument for or against original films v. remakes/sequels/prequels but a recognition that none of these labels are prerequisites for quality cinema and that in the past year we have seen some truly excellent films.

But I digress. I’m going to say a few things about the films I’ve listed above and why I enjoyed them.

The Adventures of Tintin

You’re unlikely to see a more visually stunning film than this, period, and it’s the arresting style in which this story has been rendered that ultimately won me over. Tintin is an eerily beautiful film that showcases the best of motion capture animation and its ability to be realised on the big screen. Unfortunately, I think one of Tintin’s strengths – its adherence to the core material – is also one of its weaknesses as the characters were ultimately flat and cartoonish, something that really stands out in the immersive, detail-rich world of 3D. When the artistry of the backdrop provides more thrills than the main characters, you know you have a serious problem. Nonetheless, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the overall product and for this reason it was more than worth the ticket price.

Warning: Some truly hilarious one-liners lie in store via the always entertaining Captain Haddock.

Hugo

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s first foray into both children films and 3D moviemaking, so to say there was considerable interest around the venture is an understatement. For the most part, it’s an ambitious, entertaining film with a colourful cast of interesting characters. A significant portion of the first half however was definitely clunky in its set-up of the various storylines that intersect within the train station and certainly took far too much time. It managed, despite that, to still be engaging – the story is a fascinating one and despite indifferent acting from the lead, Asa Butterfield, it takes off and brings to life the magic of cinema. It’s a treat for those in the know and an informative and interesting lesson for the uninitiated without being overbearing or boring. I have a few issues with certain characters but mostly, I left the cinema feeling charmed.

Warning: Some inconsistencies (like accents) might throw you off.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Adapted from a John Le Carre novel, this is a slow, absorbing, old-fashioned Cold War era spy film. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, this is the best. Featuring a fantastic performance by Gary Oldman, this story goes nowhere fast and instead luxuriates in quietly unfurling all the various elements at the centre of the mystery being investigated. I found the pacing both refreshing and impressive; combined with the atmosphere, the direction, the dialogue and the cinematography, it became a seamless thematic fusion that served only to enhance the characteristics of the protagonist in reflecting his nerveless, endless patience and methodical investigation. The incremental increase in tension, suspense, and suspicion further served as a broader reflection on that entire period in history. What I loved most about the movie though has to be its simplicity – instead of trying to dazzle us with a series of ill-thought out convoluted twists and turns it relied instead on the confusion that comes from muddying the waters around a single event.

Warning: Not for those with alarmingly short attention spans.

Shame

Shame is a powerful, quiet film that explores one man’s loneliness as he battles his addiction to sex and his inability to connect with those around him. It’s noteworthy by and large, I think, for the performances given by the leads; Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are both fantastic with the former deserving every bit of the hyperbolic praise that’s been sent his way. Without the power and gravitas they lend to the movie, I’m unsure as to how good or how memorable it would have been. It never really surprised me or even shocked me, with Carey Mulligan’s character arc being especially predictable – it shouldn’t have been anywhere near as engaging but she elevated the role to another level.

Warning: Gratuitous shots of penis ahead.

And these are just a few of the films I’ve seen in the past month or so, I’ve left out plenty, including the excellent George Clooney picture, The Descendants. Last year, too, there were a number of phenomenal films, lead by the King’s Speech and True Grit but including quality outings such as Toy Story 3, 50/50, Animal Kingdom, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, Bridesmaids, Win Win, The Guard and Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol to name only a few off the top of my head.

What excites me most about this year’s offerings is that there are still so many out that I haven’t seen, like The Secret World of Arriety, The Artist, Young Adult, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Chronicle. I think about the extensive array of quality films that have come out in the past year or two and I can’t help but wonder at claims that cinema is dead.

*NB: This is based on Australian release dates/when I remember seeing the films.

February 21, 2012
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